As winter approaches

Here’s the column I wrote for the EADT and the Ipswich Star newspapers a couple of weeks ago:

With temperatures noticeably dropping outside, we are on the cusp of the period that causes the most anxiety among health and social care professionals.

As the Leader of a county council, my staff are bracing themselves for the unknown, but putting robust plans in place to ensure any ‘winter crisis’ is kept at bay – as I’m sure councils are doing across the country. However, planning for the forthcoming period and beyond has been made more difficult; with storm clouds gathering between Whitehall and councils because of fraught debates over delayed transfers from hospital.

The context behind this leads back to the government’s much-welcomed additional £2billion for social care last March, showing it was listening to our concerns over the fragility of the social care system.

Councils have invested this money in making the system work better for patients, including raising care home fees, recruiting extra dementia nurses, and expanding rapid response services. This funding has helped reduce delayed discharges, and better supported the care needs of residents.

Initially, completely unrealistic targets were imposed on counties. Subsequently, 32 local authorities received letters asserting that if they do not improve discharge rates by November part of this £2bn funding would be withheld, or, equally concerning, diktats from Whitehall would be issued on how funding should be spent locally.

The imposition of targets and the positioning of NHS England has led to delays in agreeing details of the Better Care Fund (BCF), a further pot of cash for local areas to better integrate health services.

The concerns of Ministers are understandable. Rates of delayed transfers have continued to rise; a real issue for the health service but also a moral issue: no-one deserves to be stuck in hospital longer than they should do.

However, rising delayed discharges should be of little surprise when you consider the factors involved: the funding available for social care, rising demographics and demand, and, in particular whole system performance: two-thirds of delayed days are attributable to the NHS, not councils.

While Suffolk is not one of the 32 authorities that received a letter, just under half of those who were contacted are county authorities. Counties have faced a financial quandary unmatched in local government with 30% less funding per head of over 65s than in 2010 and face a £1bn black-hole in social care funding by 2020/21.

We must consider ways to use money in the system more effectively. This goes to the heart of why the current loggerheads between councils, NHS England, and the Department of Health is counterproductive and potentially highly damaging.

Counties have worked tirelessly with NHS partners to develop BCF plans, providing impetus to reduce demand. The prospect of this funding being withheld or placing it in a national body’s hands, could I fear, only worsen the situation. In this instance, centrally-led initiatives are no substitute for local knowledge and expertise.

Rather than short-term, centralist thinking, I believe we should channel our efforts into prevention and early intervention. People are living longer, meaning they are increasingly likely to have more complex conditions requiring greater levels of care.

This means there is also a need for personal responsibility as well – if people do things such as getting a flu jab, that will reduce the chance of receiving a serious illness and a visit to A&E. If people are unwell they should start by seeing their pharmacist and GP before visiting A&E, allowing those who really need emergency care to get it as quickly as possible.

Government may need to give health and social care additional funding in the Budget for the winter, but Ministers must also give local areas the opportunity to implement their BCF plans and deliver a preventative, community-based, approach.

Those 32 councils threatened with the prospect of having funding withheld must be given time to see the fruits of their labour. If not, investment by councils could go to waste and local partnerships with health will be permanently set back.

Fixing health and social care is not going to happen overnight. They are two very different beasts, multi-layered and steeped in years of bureaucracy and regulations.

That’s why whole-system reform is needed. We have failed to evolve the systems to match the demand, needs, expectations, and ultimately the money available to pay for them. It is this fundamental question we need to focus on in the forthcoming social care green paper, rather than who is to blame for delayed transfers.

Ultimately, it is revolution, rather than evolution, that is needed to unpick the systemic issues that drive the actions of both health and social care. But to make that happen, we need collaboration, not consternation.

My Column in the EADT & Ipswich Star

Every two weeks I write a column for the EADT & Ipswich Star, and at this anxious time of year we learn the A-Level and GCSE results, so here are my thoughts on the picture that emerged in Suffolk:

In the past fortnight, teenagers across Suffolk have been picking up exam results that could shape the rest of their lives.

Weeks and months of hard work has come to an end – for both pupils and staff, as well as governors and parents. For some youngsters, the results won’t be what they hoped. For many however, it will mean they will now be looking at the next stage of their lives.

To those who didn’t do as well as expected – it’s not the end of the world, there’s plenty of opportunities out there you to be a success. For those who excelled, as we’ve seen in many photos of excited students with papers jumping in the air, congratulations.

The results we’ve seen across Suffolk are a testament to the county’s continuing ambition to drive up educational standards.

Provisional A Level figures have shown the number of A*-E grades awarded to the near-3,000 students taking the exams as above the national average – with 98.2% of results making the grade, 0.3% above the average.

Even with the changes and uncertainty in GCSE grading for English and Maths this year, 64% of students achieved expected attainment levels – grade four (previously a grade C) and above – an increase on last year.

A number of schools saw significant increases in their students reaching the grade four threshold – and the hard work of all involved in achieving these should be commended.

More than 7,000 Suffolk students took GCSEs this year and figures collated from schools show a significant increase in the number of disadvantaged pupils achieving the threshold measure in English and maths – around 6% more students in Suffolk achieved this compared to last year.

We are in the process of reinvigorating our Raising the Bar strategy for 2018 through to 2020 and will be sharing more information on that soon, followed by a consultation. In the process of carrying out this work officers have already been out in the sector engaging with school heads to see what they think should be in there.

This strategy aims to give every child the best preparation for life before and beyond school to enable them to achieve their full potential. Part of this vision is for every child to attend a good or outstanding school.

As part of the scheme, we have seen great successes in getting people into teaching through our graduate internship scheme and school to school support partnerships – where schools build relationships to share best practice and drive up standards – have improved throughout the county. These partnerships, of which 75% of schools work in, have been recognised by the Department for Education, as well as the Regional Schools Commissioner.

Suffolk also continues to be above the national average for children achieving a good level of development at the end of Reception year – a vital step in preparing children for their next steps in education and towards our goal of enabling all children in the county to reach their full potential.

Suffolk’s students are progressing well between key stage three and key stage four– moving up 57 places from 112th to 55th across in the national rankings last year, putting our county in the top half of all local education authorities.

When we launched this ambitious approach, Suffolk’s educational standards were considered to be poor – little over two-thirds of schools were rated either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. With hard work and a common goal, the best for our county’s children, we have really managed to turn this around. Today, 88% of schools have been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by government inspectors – a 22% increase since the strategy’s launch.

The rate of improvement is fast too – last year our county’s schools reduced the gap on the national average by 5% and we are now just 1% below the national figure.

However, we are under no illusion that our work is complete and while it is extremely pleasing to see the progress made so far, there is still more to be done and I am confident we will see our schools and education settings continue to improve quickly.

The future remains bright for our children – and we will continue to provide the best opportunities for them.

 

EADT – A new weekly column

On Tuesday in the EADT and the Ipswich Star I wrote the first of a weekly Column as Leader of Suffolk County Council, well I say weekly it will be every other week as I shall alternate with SCC’s Cabinet Member for Ipswich Paul West who will write more about Ipswich issues as I concentrate on a pan-Suffolk approach.

These will be a mixture of the issues that are happening as the papers go to print and some of my thoughts about how we develop Suffolk as a place to live and work over the next 20 years.  Suffolk County Council is a large organisation delivering services to some of the most vulnerable people in our Community but it is but one players and how we work in partnership across the Public sector, with private businesses and voluntary organisations is key to how we build the place we all want to live.

“Yesterday in Lowestoft, as I witnessed the initial stages of the ground investigations that will shape the final design of the Lake Lothing Third Crossing, I saw the good of our democratic bodies working together.

The investigations, taking place on land behind the offices shared by Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council, is another step in the right direction to getting the £90million project, funded by both central government and the county council, completed. The benefits will not only be reaped by those living in the town, but across the wider area too. We simply would not have funding for the project had this not been the case. The business case for this project, along with the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich, was put together by people who work very hard and want the best for our county.

This also rings true for the senior bosses and directors who work on our behalf. They all, like the democratically elected councillors, work hard to make a difference to Suffolk and those who live and work here. Pay in the public sector has always been a fiercely-debated issue, and even more so in recent times. It’s not just politicians and those working in the public sector – we’ve all seen the furore over the salaries awarded to the highest earners at the BBC, as well as the gender pay gap.

Last week we published our accounts, as we do every year and are required to do so. As has been reported, the majority of our staff received the 1% pay rise, in line with other public sector workers up and down the country. However, a select few members of staff received honorariums as they stepped up to fill roles, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Indeed, they are pay rises, but they are reasonable, considering they come with greater pressures and expectations. There is no hiding from the changes that will be coming to the United Kingdom in the next two years and these people will be there assessing and dealing with those challenges. Alongside that, as an organisation we are looking to save £56million over the next four years and, along with the cabinet, these people are key to making difficult but effective decisions.

Bringing in new people to the roles would have cost the council even more money. Not just for the roles themselves, but for the cost of advertising the position. Then there is the time element too, as staff will be taken away from working on policy and serving the community as they filter applications and sit in interviews.”

Our recently introduced priorities are based on three core principles; inclusive growth, health care and wellbeing, and efficient and effective public services. These are ambitious targets – but ones I know we can achieve during the term of the administration.

This is because of the hard work and commitment of our staff, regardless of pay grade, and our councillors – and not just those in control of the administration, as opposition provides checks and balances and the chance to challenge us on policies.

Sound financial management is needed, along with careful planning and the will to find new ways to deliver and protect our frontline services. One of these methods Suffolk is leading on nationally – inspired by the work of a Dutch community, using the Buurtzorg model of care (to deliver dedicated personal and healthcare to patients in a neighbourhood) in the west of the county with our partners in health.

The work we have been doing here is something I am proud to champion in my position of Health and Social Care Integration spokesman on the County Council Network. It is something I truly believe is a strong contribution to the national debate about how we re-shape the healthcare system to serve the ever-changing age profile of our communities. I’m sure there will be more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead as the trial continues.

We, and our partners, work extremely hard to provide the best for our residents. Despite the challenges we will come up against, our staff continue to excel every day in a concerted effort to make savings and provide a better life for those we serve.

Things have to change

Last Monday in my role as Chairman of the Improvement and Efficiency Panel of the East of England Local Government Association (EELGA) I chaired a conference at the Cambridge Genome Campus Conference Centre, probably the most impressive venue in East Anglia.  The conference was entitled Positive Ageing and co-convened by the Eastern Academic Health Science Network (EAHSN), which is an organisation within the Health system dedicated to new learning and bringing technology to the fore in the Health world, the other co-sponsors were NHS Confederation and Public Health England.

About 200 people from across the region’s Health and Social Care system gathered to hear speakers and life experiences of older age and how we, as a system, can help shape a positive vision and reality for people as they age in our communities.  An ageing population is often talked about but just living to a ripe of age is not enough it has to be a positive experience or what the point and that is the point I made in opening the Conference.

Here is conference brochure summary of what the day entailed:

‘With a significant ageing demographic the East of England is well positioned to be at the leading edge of accelerating the testing and scale up of self-care technology and health services in a way which can help make ageing work better for everyone.

This conference, led by Eastern AHSN, the East of England LGA, Public Health England and the NHS Confederation, will bring together NHS, local government, industry and academia stakeholders and aims to strengthen emerging solutions, new ways of working and shared plans for achieving healthier and happier ageing across the region.

In particular it will look to:

  • support the STPs to meet their ambitions on this agenda
  • identify opportunities to work collaboratively to further positive ageing agenda
  • position the region at the forefront of the UKs research and innovation communities.

The conference will be structured around six themes which include:

  • Defining successful ageing – What are the real demographics of ageing?
  • Sowing health habits – What can we do to ensure our own health and increase the chance of both a long life and a healthy life?
  • Rethinking work – How can society ensure the health and economic benefits of work for more people into older life?
  • Breakthroughs in technology – How can new research and innovations radically change our concepts of what old age means?
  • Connecting with others – How can we develop caring communities and multi-generational social networks?
  • Preserving purpose – How can health and social care systems focus on maintaining quality and purpose of life above the drive for extending life?’

And here is the link to the presentations from the day and if you have a look please look out for the Buurtzorg Health Care Model as that is a programme I am championing here in Suffolk and is a part of our contribution to the national debate about how we re-shape the healthcare system to better serve the changing age profile of our communities.

http://www.eelga.gov.uk/events/east_of_england_positive_ageing/

 

 

 

Grenfell Tower

A few days ago we all witnessed on our TV screens the terrible devastation and loss of life when something goes badly wrong in our system.  Grenfell Tower fire should not have happened.  To hear the harrowing tales of those who survived and see the pictures of those who did not, your heart simply goes out to people at this time and words fail us all.  But like everyone, we want answers.

I am a builder in my blood and I was a shocked as anyone that a building could be refurbished with materials that failed so tragically in this day and age.  That should not happen.

Worse still, is that Residents have been raising concerns about other aspects of the infrastructure and fire safety of the building, and appear to have been ignored.  That should not happened.

All too often recently, we again saw our outstanding emergency services rushing into horror as people ran for their lives.  However, it appears in the aftermath, the emergency planning and response by the council was poor.  That should not have happened – one of our County Council’s guiding principles is that we are there in an emergency.

So there are lessons to be learnt and here in Suffolk we are already seeking to learn them.  The Suffolk Fire Service has been out reassuring residents giving them information about the fire safety in the few hi rise blocks we have here in Suffolk.  They, alongside District officers have been making extensive check of the fire precautions and testing of equipment has been stepped up.  There are 14 residential blocks over 8 storeys high and 13 with between over 4 & 8 storeys in Suffolk.

However, Suffolk County Council is not a housing provider and it’s a mixed picture of ownership of these buildings across Suffolk, but today I will be written to the providers of each of the blocks stressing to them, the need to make sure that they work with Residents, building control and our Fire Officers to make sure all of our residents are as safe as they can be.  Our Fire officers are not aware of any building that have the same cladding system as that of Grenfell Tower but those checks continue.

At Suffolk Public Sector Leader’s next meeting we will be reviewing our emergency plans across all of our Councils to make sure as a Suffolk family if something happens we can be sure that the system is there to help immediately to support and protect people and in the longer term should it be needed.

As the questions get answered and new advice and legislation is produced we will to make sure all advice is adhered across Suffolk make sure that residents are as safe in their homes as they can be, irrespective of living in a sheltered bungalow or a High Rise building.

Much of the work our great fire fighters do is about prevention.  So I will leave you with one simple but vitally important question.  Do you have a smoke alarm?  If you do have you checked it recently?  Test it now – just to be sure.

A Precious Thing

Yesterday morning I got up with my head full of our Suffolk County Council election campaign, I checked my emails, answered a few questions from our candidates and did a little social media, then off to the Campaign office to write letters and stuff envelopes with an old friend and my fellow Councillor on FHDC Nigel and his wife Sandra.  Day ahead to involve delivering our residents survey, some filming with the BBC on the campaign trail and then collating and entering survey results.  All safe in the knowledge that despite the occasional comment on the doorstep, we would be safe and free to do so.  All the time setting out our vision for Suffolk and why ours is better than …insert other political group.

Then came the shocking news and TV pictures in which a terrorist ploughed a car into innocent men, women and children and then, when tackled, fatally stabbed a brave unarmed policeman guarding our MPs and their staff as they debated and voted on our behalf.

It’s at these sad moments that you are reminded that life is a precious thing and so is democracy and there are those out there they do not value either.  For now we are shocked, quietly mourn and have the deepest sympathies for those who have been injured or lost loved ones.  But as we continue to go about our lives, I for one, am reminded that voting and democracy are precious things to be cherished.

SCC Conservative Manifesto 2017

SCCCG Campaign 2017 - Manifesto Front PageToday Suffolk Conservative’s launch our Manifesto for the Suffolk County Council elections on 4th May.

It’s been 12 months in the planning and every single pledge is costed and has been debates by our candidates going back across a series of meetings starting last September.

Its build on literally thousands of doorstep conversations and online surveys where people have over the past couple of years told us their priorities for Suffolk and what they want us to continue to do and build on.

  • Residents tell us they want us to continue to keep the Council tax as low as possible building on our outstanding 7 years of delivering a 0% rise in the base Council Tax.
  • Residents tell us they want us to spend more of our roads, investing to prevent pot holes from happening and where they inevitably do, be quicker about repairing them.
  • Residents tell us they want us to continue to look after the vulnerable adults and children in our communities and protect the budgets for doing so, just as we have been.
  • Residents tell us that we need to put Suffolk at the forefront of infrastructure spending and I hope last week’s announcements on the two new bridges for Suffolk show that we are.
  • Residents tell us we need to work with Business across Suffolk to provide higher paying Jobs and new homes at the same time as protecting our unique countryside that makes Suffolk such a wonderful place to live, work, raise our families and have a long and enjoyable life in.

Our Manifesto sets this vision out.

https://www.suffolkconservatives.org.uk/news/suffolk-conservatives-launch-may-2017-manifesto

Vote Conservative on May 4th.

 

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